Thursday, June 21, 2012

Is Membership in Your Association Worth the Dues?

Two questions of associations are emerging:
1. What value do I get from belonging?
2. Is it worth it to attend?

Some association professionals see these questions as a product of the recession.

Others recognize them as a change in the value proposition raised by an emerging generation when “membership is not automatically the thing to do.”

Here are strings of “correspondence” to illustrate these two questions:

Value of my Dues
“I just received my state and local bar membership dues invoice, and I’m staring at the $528 price tag wondering whether I ought to renew.” Asked by Sam Glover.

Some of the responses:
  • I wish Sam had posted this a few days ago, as yesterday I ponied up the $500 (we both practice in MN) because, for whatever reason, I felt compelled to re-up. Reading this post forced me to question why I continue to pay dues like a lawyerly lemming each year, and I reached the conclusion that bar association membership has very limited value to me. I do like the magazine, but not for $500 a year, and it may be the case that I get a discount on medical and dental insurance by virtue of my membership. If I can get the same (relatively) reasonable rate on insurance sans membership, next year I’ll probably let my membership expire and spend that money on one of those superfluous gadgets certain authors and commenters are so fond of.  Josh Williams June 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm
  • I am a dues paying member of the bar in the state where I have an active practice/clients. As others have mentioned, it’s mandatory in my state (NC) if you’re on the docket. I view the dues as yet another bureaucratic tax and don’t even bother to look for networking or committee value, because it doesn’t exist. Having said that, paying $375.00 every year for a seat at the table is worth the price of admission. John O'Connor June 14, 2012 at 10:49 pm
By way of information:  the majority of states require attorneys join the local/state Bar Association as a requirement to practice law in that state.  Guess that is one way to keep your membership up.

Value of Conference Fees
“I have done the math. It will cost me $1,872 to attend the annual meeting in Dallas including the Emerging AMC Conference on Sat., August 11. I would love to go to meet new people and learn more about association management but I need to justify this cost. So my question to you all is if you are an AMC, have you retained clients by attending the annual meeting? If you are involved in chapter management, have you hired or recommended an AMC because you met them at the Annual Meeting? One more question for AMC owners. If I have to choose (and I may have to) between joining the AMC Institute and attending the annual meeting which do you think is the better investment in gaining clients? By the way, I network well online and in-person.” Asked by Julie Stelter.

Some of the responses:
  • “Great question! Gets at the heart of the business issues for any AMC, especially an emerging one. Like so many important questions, there's no clear or right answer. It largely depends on how you structure the ROI issues for you and your firm. One thing seems clear from the way you structured your question. You seem to be equating the value of attending the meeting strictly in terms of "sales development". If that's most important to you right now, you'd probably get a better return if you took that $ and bought advertising in your local market. I've never thought of attending an ASAE Annual Meeting or an AMC Institute meeting for the sales leads that can be generated. Have there been leads coming from these sources. Yes, as a result if gaining some visibility within the AMC community, we actually got a couple of leads from AMCs who thought: ‘this organization is not in our area of strength (or geography), but it looks like a fit for you guys.’ It was icing on the cake!” From Michael LoBue, CAE
  • “Agree completely with Michael. I've never thought of attending an ASAE/AMC meeting as a lead generator, although, as Michael points out, through discussions with others, talking about best practices and plain old visibility, it is possible to receive referrals. Sometimes my learning is more of business owners chatting in the halls with other business owners rather than from structured sessions - but that's ok. If that is part of my ROI for attending, then I come away satisfied that it is money well spent.” From MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE
Personally, the recession has masked some major changes impacting associations and other nonprofit organizations.

We’ve blamed lost revenue, lower memberships and poor conference attendance on “the recession.” And, yes, consolidation and recession has caused some retrenchment. But, not all of it.

The “what is the value” question being asked – especially by emerging Millenials – has changed how association professionals need to view our associations and its services.

Since we work at organizations which were conceived in the 19th and 20th centuries, we need to find ways to ensure they are relevant in the 21st century.

Are your members (and prospects) asking these kinds of questions of your association?

If so, how are you answering them? What are you doing to change?

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